Book reviews on the History of the USA

USA, a melting pot

A melting pot. That’s what people say about the USA and its population. The same applies for my USA History book reviews. 

Lands’ diversity is one of the reason the USA has a fascinating history.  

There are so many stories out there. While the USA history generally concentrates on the last centuries – the time the United States of America formally exists – the history of the area goes way back in time. A history in many ways as interesting as the modern times stories. 

What amazes me is that, while the whole continent was still connected “historically” when we treat its Indian past, it feels divided in the modern age. A process that started with the arrival of the first European discoverers. First the  Spaniards & the Portuguese. Later followed by the English, French, Dutch & others. 

Painting of Columbus’ first encounter with the indigenous people of the Americas.
Columbus “discovered” the Americas, sponsored by the Spanish crown

Nowadays many people think you refer to the USA when you mention “America”. While all the people to the south (and north) are as “American” as the people who live in the US. 

To distinguish the two parts of the One Continent, I defined this category, the “USA History book reviews”. Later on, I will make another segment “Latin America book reviews”.  

By the way, I’m as interested in the southern part of the “Americas” as I am in its northern halve. Maybe even more so, because I’m living in Latin America for half my life. Most years in the beautiful Andean country Ecuador.

Besides that, I have lived a few years in Guatemala and travelled many times to Mexico. The last country being my favorite travel & armchair travel destination. (See About me, to know a little more about me, the author of this travel & Books Blog). 

USA History Books – Special interests

As with all themes in TravelArtWay’s book reviews, I am not interested in every aspect of the USA History. I have certain preferences. When you’ll visit my list of books read on Goodreads, you’ll soon discover which themes I prefer.

USA Politics

I don’t read much about modern day politics, but have read biographies on several US presidents. To mention a few: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon. 

The most exiting biography I read though was about Lyndon B. Johnson. Namely, the famous book written by Robert A. Caro. This book, or rather these books (4 vols. so far), is one of my all time favorite books (5 stars). Not only because of the way Caro has written about Johnson, but also because of the man himself. LBJ is the best example of a politician pur sang and the way politics plays itself out. (Click on following link to read a book review on Caro’s Lyndon B. Johnson, or click on BOOK COVERS.)

USA History book reviews on Robert A. Caro’s on the life of President Lyndon B. Johnson

The serie about president Johnson is Robert A. Caro’s life work. He is working on a 5th volume at the moment. The last on LBJ?

Before this biography he wrote another best seller. A famous book I also liked, The Power Broker. A Biography of Robert Moses, the New York “builder” (1975, 4.5 stars).

  • Note: If you’re interested in US biographies or biographers, you can’t miss the author Walter Isaacson. I’ve read as many as seven books written by him so far. I liked them one by one, in the following order. 
  1. Steve Jobs (2011, 5 stars)
  2. The Wise Men (1986, 4.5 stars)
  3. Henry Kissinger (1992, 4 stars)
  4. Benjamin Franklin (2004, 4 stars)
  5. Albert Einstein (2007, 4 stars)
  6. The Innovators (2014, 4 stars)
  7. Leonardo Da Vinci (2017, 3.5 stars)
  • Most of Isaacson’s books have everything to do with USA History, others only partially or not at all.(And are therefore maybe the least appreciated by me? It’s possible.)
  • Logically, his latest book, The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, 2021 is on my wish list.
Book cover of Walter Isaacson’ Steve Jobs, essential part of USA History
The best book I’ve read written by Isaacson is the biography of Steve Jobs

USA – Man on the Moon

It’s was John F. Kennedy that accelerated the NASA program to go to the Moon “before the decade is out”. And that “experiment” is another fascination of mine. 

President John F. Kennedy, most famous president of the USA
John F. Kennedy

I read several books on the race to the Moon, but for me the best book on the subject by far is Andrew Chaikin’s Man on the Moon (For a book review on this book, click on the title above, or click on the BOOK COVER). 

Cover of Chaikin’s book Man of the Moon, part of USA History
  • Note: Besides that, I read good reads on the race to the Moon by Michael Collins (1974, 4 stars) – member of the Apollo 11 crew –  Dan Parry (2009, 4 stars), Chris Kraft (2001, 4 stars), Gene Kranz (2000, 4 stars), and others.

USA History – The Vietnam War

Another theme I go back to every now & then, is the Vietnam War. You could conclude that this war belongs to the History of Asia – and it does – but it’s also an “American” war. 

Besides the battlefield in “Nam” itself, as the war was dragging on, people took to the streets in the USA to protest the war. Converting them in battlefields as well. Besides that, almost sixty thousands, mostly young American men lost their life in Vietnam.

Young USA soldiers on the battlefield in Vietnam. Almost sixty thousand young US troopers lost their life their.
Almost sixty thousand young US troopers lost their life in Vietnam

That’s why I consider this war as an essential part of the USA History. Also due to leaving that country too many scars. Not as many as Vietnam, but still. 

So far, I’ve read several good reads on the subject. To name a few:

  • The most interesting so far I found Robert D. Schulzinger’s A time for war (1998).
  • Besides that, I liked Haing Ngor & Roger Warner’s Survival in the killing fields (1987) – mainly about Cambodia – as well as Robert Mason’s Chickenhawk (1983).
  • And finally, I have to mention Bao Ninh’ phenomenal novel The sorrow of War (1994). 

As you will notice soon, I’ll start this “USA History book reviews” segment with reviews on two books on the Vietnam war. Books I consider even better then the ones mentioned above.

The ”Discovery” of America. 

The “Discovery” of America is another subject I like to read about. Although the main events took place to the south of the USA – in the Caribbean, as well as in nowadays Mexico and Peru – it’s interesting to read about how the conquerers bit by bit “discovered” the whole continent.  

As the Spaniards were the first to arrive and are generally acknowledged as the “discoverers”, it’s no surprise they were also the first ones to end up on the coasts of what nowadays is the USA. 

  • Note: Forgetting for a moment that the Normans had already landed on the northeast coast of the US long before the Spaniards.. Aa well as the fact that their leader, Christopher Columbus, was born near Genua, Italy.

The Discovery and Exploration of the American continent is a fascinating story. I read many books on the subject. More on the southern part – the area below the USA on the map- but also some on the discovery of the northern region, the USA and Canada.

  • Note: A good book concerning the “discovery” and exploration of the US territory I like to mention is Morris Bishop’s The odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca (1930, 4 stars). On the European discovery of Canada there’s a marvelous read, written by David Hacket Fisher, titled Champlain’s dream (2008, 5 stars).
Book cover of Hackett Fischer’s Champlain’s Dream
5 star book about Samuel de Champlain

USA History – The Indian past 

I have to admit that so far I haven’t read a specific book about the Indian past. That is, the history before the European colonists arrived. I did so concerning Latin America, but not about the northern part of the Americas. 

However, I read some good books about the Indian past at the moment the white man appeared on its broad horizon. 

  • Note: An excellent book about the confrontation between the Indians and the white men, is S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon (2010, 4 stars).
  • Another mention deserves Russell Shorto’s book, The Island at the Centre of the World (2004, 4 stars), about the colonization of what nowadays is Manhattan, New York. As well as, his latest book, Revolution Song (2018, 4.5 stars).

The US Civil War

I read other books concerning the USA History. Like for example, about the US-Mexican War. Or about the US Civil War, also in connection with the history of neighbouring Mexico. 

  • Note: Because the US had it’s internal conflict, the French Emperor Napoleon III saw an opportunity to conquer Mexico. He did and he didn’t. Instead of setting a Frenchman on the throne, he convinced an Austrian archduke to fulfill that role. An act that cost the “archdupe” his life. An amazing story, that I wrote down and got published (in Dutch) in 2010. 
Book cover of my own book Koningsdrama in Mexico (in Dutch)
  • Elzen, Arthur van den, Koningsdrama in Mexico, 2010, 566p., Aspekt (Soesterberg, the Netherlands). ISBN 978 90 5911 925 3

In the end, I’ve read some books about the US Civil War, but until so far consider it a very intimate war. And for that reason sometimes hard to understand. Maybe, I’m too much of an outsider, or didn’t find the best book on the subject yet.

USA – Civil Rights movement

The same is true of the history around the Civil Rights movement. From a young age, I’m interested in that part of USA History, but still have to find the right literature.

As the Civil War, it may be also a too intimate theme. Sometimes hard to understand for an outsider. This doesn’t mean that racism is only typical of the Southern US States. No way! But it’s different, mainly because of its strong economic dimension. From the start is was a commercial enterprise in human beings. 

I recently bought the 3 volume set written by Taylor Branch about Martin Luther King & the Civil Rights movement. Books that have received high reviews on the book sites. For me, they are next up to read!

Sit-in of the US Civil rights movement
Sit-in of Civil Rights Movement USA

This doesn’t mean I didn’t read something about the Civil Rights movement. Reading biographies about John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Nixon have given me insights in the issue. 

  • Update: Read all 3 volumes and have them review one by one in the USA History book segment(See below).

Book reviews on USA History

Hastings, Max, Vietnam – An Epic Tragedy, 1945 – 1975, 2018

Click on the BOOK COVER to go the review

Book cover Max Hastings’ Vietnam War, first book review in this specific segment

Ward, Geoffrey C. & Burns, Ken, The Vietnam War – An intimate history, 2017

Click on the BOOK COVER to go the review

Book cover Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns’ Vietnam War, second book review in USA History segment

Chernow, Ron, Titan – The life of John D Rockefeller Sr., 2004 (1998)

Click on the BOOK COVER to go the review

Ron Chernow Titan, the Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.

Shorto, Russell, Revolution Song – A story of American Freedom, 2018

Click on the BOOK COVER to go the review

Cover of Revolution Song, written by Russell Shorto.
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